Distance learning offers opportunities to grow from mistakes

Aug 28 2020

Distance learning offers opportunities to grow from mistakes

“Always make new mistakes.” 
–Esther Dyson

So, what’s gone well for your children so far this year in distance learning? What do they, and you, wish had gone better? How have they reacted when something went awry? During the past week, teachers shared anecdotes describing technology glitches in class, and the way that students responded so positively.

Perhaps what was most heartening in the teachers’ stories was their ability to laugh at their mistakes and then immediately rectify the situation. Keystone faculty and staff worked long and hard this summer to improve our distance learning program; they could have easily wilted when something wrong happened. However, they persevered and moved forward.

By responding in this manner, teachers modeled beautifully for students how to react to setbacks. Over the past decade, there has been much conversation on the topic of resilience ranging from the preschool classroom to the armed forces. Study after study has shown that the way we act after a momentary complication can determine whether we succeed or fail in the end.

Three books – Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance by Angela Duckworth, and How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough – detail the importance of a growth mindset over a fixed mindset. If children believe that they can overcome difficulties and their abilities are in a state of growth rather than being immutable, they will develop and achieve success. On the other hand, if students believe that certain people are “just good or bad in math” or “I’m just not a good writer,” they will shy away from subjects they find difficult and never discover their true potential. Similarly, if we parents tell our children when they do well that “you are smart” rather than “you worked hard and achieved results,” they will fail to connect effort with success.

Why do I bring this up now? A recent article in the New York Times called “Feel Like You’re Going Out of Your Mind: Consider Your Mindset” by Alina Tugend applies Carol Dweck’s work on mindset to the way children handle distance learning. Tugend writes that based on what teachers in Fort Worth, Houston,and El Paso saw, “students with more of that mind-set were able to adapt faster to online learning.” While not ignoring the enormous challenges that COVID-19 imposes, we can teach children that their approach to this new reality will in part determine whether they bounce back or fall apart.

Tugend suggests three guiding principles. First, we need to help children realize that because they are not good at something initially does not mean they never will be. If they focus on the process rather than the final product, children may improve in that specific area; in addition, and perhaps more importantly, they learn how to apply the process of continuous improvement to other areas.

Secondarily, children need to comprehend that just repeating what one is doing will not necessarily solve the problem. The old adage attributed to Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” holds true in many areas including schoolwork. One must create new paths for success when encountering obstacles.

Lastly, we need to be self-aware enough to identify when we transition from a growth to a fixed mindset and then adjust accordingly. We can help our children appreciate that everyone has challenges that trigger feelings of vulnerability; this is only human. The key is to know what catalyzes these emotions and reorient the conversation in our head back to a growth mindset.

For the rest of their lives, our children will face challenges; as parents, we want this to happen so they can learn and grow. However, part of our responsibility as parents and as educators is to equip them with the habits of mind and skills to work through these situations and come out the other side even better off than they were before. Distance learning during the worst pandemic in a century tests all of us in new and different ways; however, with guidance, our children will become even stronger and more adaptable than they were previously.

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